Making Public Transport Information Accessible to Disabled People


Planning a journey, knowing the waiting times at bus stops, knowing where to get off, taking correct action in the case of disruption—using public transport requires having access to information at every step along the way. The task, of course, is far more complicated for people living with a disability, whether motor, sensory or intellectual. This article offers a list of solutions that can be used to provide accessible public transport information to all types of passengers.

The Needs of Disabled Passengers Regarding Accessible Public Transport Information

“Passenger information” encompasses all information transmitted to transport network passengers at every stage of their journey. Passenger information can be provided in different paper or digital formats and can be checked remotely or at stations and stops or even on board vehicles. Even though such information is for all travelers, providing it to those living with a disability is far trickier.

Disabled travelers need to receive the information in real time and in an appropriate format in order to:

⊗ Prepare their itinerary according to their mobility (location of stops, transportation network accessibility);

⊗ Know in real time the operating condition of adapted equipment (elevators, escalators, etc.);

⊗ Be informed about the next step in their journey (checklist);

⊗ Know what to do in the case of a service disruption.

Their specific needs are complicated during irregular occurrences (breakdowns, strikes, detours, stops not served, etc.). People with hearing loss can rarely get information on disruptions since it is usually announced orally. Those with visual impairment lose their bearings and find it difficult to find an alternative itinerary. People with a motor disability may find themselves unable to take an alternative means of transportation because of physical obstacles.

Finally, people with an intellectual disability will also have difficulty understanding the information, making a decision and finding new reference points. Another significant aspect is that the stress caused by disruptions to all travelers is far more burdensome on disabled passengers due to their particular difficulties and their sometimes heightened sensitivity (psychiatric disability, autism).

Trip Preparation with Easy-to-Use Trip Planners

For a person with a disability, preparation is key to a successful trip. Some years ago, trip planning relied on maps and schedules jotted down on paper, and they still are essential to some people, but the digital alternatives available today have made planning far more efficient. Transportation operators usually provide a trip planner on their website, supplemented by a mobile app.

However, these trip planners should fulfill the following conditions if they are to be usable by a disabled person and respond to their needs:

⊗ The web or phone interface must conform to digital accessibility standards (usable with a screen reader, adaptable to the user’s display settings, etc.).

⊗ The options for the trip planner must include accessibility criteria: elevators, escalators, level access, etc.;

⊗ Stations and stops must be possible to locate on a map and by their actual address, which must be fully written out (for those who cannot read the map and so that it can be entered into a GPS).

To facilitate the mobility of everyone, all information on the transportation networks should be made public so that it can be integrated into multi-modal trip planners. In fact, the use of apps or trip planners that are specific to single cities is often an obstacle.

Written or Audio Materials Designed for Different Disabilities

Despite the development of digital technologies, physical materials can still be of great service to many transportation passengers. This is why it’s important to make simple maps or large-font timetables available to passengers. London, for example, has a wide variety of subway maps; they come in contrasted colors and audio format. Some maps only show the above-ground network for those with claustrophobia. Another example is Toulouse (France), which offers an audio description of its subway stations.

Visual and Audio Traveler Information Points

Departures, connections and arrivals, every step in a journey has its stop. At every stop, people need accessible public transport information.

Traveler information points are illuminated signs at bus stops, and tram or subway stations. These signs notify passengers of the waiting time and any possible disruptions to a line serving the stop.
But what use are these to a visually impaired person? The information points have to be in audio format, possibly through the use of a remote control or a smartphone. This function has two advantages. Firstly, the on-demand audio provides illiterate people with the same information everyone else receives. Secondly, the activation of the sign by remote also allows visually impaired people to precisely locate the stop and confirm that they are where they want to be.

This solution has already been rolled out across numerous cities around the world, such as San Francisco, Auckland, Toulouse, Lyon and Prague.

Read our article: Obstacles in Public Transport: What Solutions for Physical Disability?

Disruption Announcements in Audio and Writing

In the event of disruptions (breakdowns, strikes, re-routing of lines or just a simple change of platform), the information is usually given to passengers over a PA system located in the vehicles or at the stop. Deaf people are left noticing the change in attitude of the passengers around them yet oblivious to the reason. The situation becomes more distressing for them when they soon realize there is a problem but have completely missed out on any solution that has been proposed. It is therefore essential that such information be also given on screens installed for this purpose.

SMS Alerts on Disruptions: Universal Accessibility

For disabled people, disruptions to their means of transportation can cause plenty of stress and added difficulties. That’s why such situations need to be anticipated, more so than for other travelers.
SMS alerts are already available on many urban transport networks, providing real-time information on disruptions affecting the entire network or only those lines selected beforehand by the user according to their usual routes.
This system is aimed at all transportation users. For a person living with a disability to also benefit from this technology, it should be ensured that subscription to the service does not act as an obstacle. Adherence to digital accessibility standards and a simple procedure remain crucial.
It ought to be noted that this system of SMS alerts should not replace other methods of providing information about disruptions. After all, those without a cell phone or who have not registered for the service would remain in the dark otherwise.

Visual and Audio Announcement of Next Stop

In all public transportation, the announcement of the upcoming stop is an essential piece of information for passengers, all the more so if they are not familiar with the route. This information is often available on an illuminated panel. But it must also be given orally. Obviously, this is for those with a visual impairment but, more generally, it is for anyone who cannot read whether due to illiteracy or simply because of where they are sitting.

Some smartphone apps alert users to the moment when they should request their stop.

Innovative Smartphone Apps for Connecting Passengers

The use of smartphones is widespread and has opened up new possibilities for individual travel. Some applications offer to connect a disabled person with one-off voluntary helpers, whether for a minute, an hour or more.
A good example of this type of app is BeMyEyes, which allows blind or visually impaired people to get visual help via a video-conversation with any one of a number of volunteers ready to lend their eyes for a few minutes.
As for mobility, Faciligo is a French travel buddy platform allowing people with reduced mobility to find a travel companion for any type of journey on public transportation.
The idea is to connect travelers with reduced mobility or a disability and even elderly passengers with able-bodied travelers thereby improving transportation access to people who cannot travel alone. For the support provided, the companion receives a discount on the price of their ticket.

Workshops on Transportation Networks for the Most Vulnerable Users

Help from another person is sometimes indispensable in preparing for a trip so that a disabled person to set off independently on public transportation. Some transportation operators have established workshops or courses allowing disabled people to learn and understand the network.

In Paris, the transport operator RATP organizes Mobility Workshops. These workshops were originally aimed at passengers with intellectual disabilities, but they soon expanded to schools and have received high praise from participants.

These are great examples of accessible public transport information that you can also implement in your network to help your users.

The addition of audio information to visual information and vice versa, the setting up of accessible digital services, the use of phone apps, and on-demand community support are just some of the numerous local initiatives that have sprung up to open up information access to all passengers. The main issue today remains standardizing the different sources and making the information known to everyone so that every person can reap the benefits.


For disabled people, disruptions to their means of transportation can cause plenty of stress and added difficulties. That’s why such situations need to be anticipated, more so than for other travelers.


Lise Wagner

Lise Wagner

Accessibility Expert

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